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The glowing bronze of this statue on a rock outcropping near the East Drive at 67th Street reflects the loving pats of countless children and adults who recall the story of a heroic dog. In January 1925, the city of Nome, Alaska experienced an outbreak of diphtheria. At that time, Nome had a population of 1,429 people and there was only enough antitoxin serum in distant Anchorage to treat about 300 people exposed to the disease. A train line did run over 325 miles from Anchorage to Nenana, the station closest to Nome, but Nome was icebound seven months out of the year. Alaska’s two open-cockpit planes were not safe in the frigid and windy weather.
A relay of mushers and their dog-sled teams was the only way to deliver the fur-wrapped twenty-pound package of serum to the ailing community 674 miles from Nenana. The route followed the old Iditarod Trail used by mail drivers from Anchorage to Nome (now the route of the dog-sled championships). The 20 teams of over 200 dogs covered the frozen terrain at about six miles per hour, in blizzard conditions with temperatures of 50 degrees below zero. An international audience listened over their radios and read in their newspapers of the race to Nome. The last musher, Gunnar Kasson, and his team lead by Balto, a black and white Alaskan malamute, raced over the frozen tundra in only five days and seven hours – a world record time. Within days after the arrival of the serum, the epidemic, which had claimed five lives, was over.
Gunnar Kasson later described the incredible trip to reporters: "I couldn't see the trail. Many times I couldn't even see my dogs, so blinding was the gale. I gave Balto, my lead dog, his head and trusted him. He never once faltered. It was Balto who led the way. The credit is his." Balto survived the journey, and toured the United States with the rest of the dog team. On December 17, 1925, 10 months after his arrival in Nome, Balto was present as this bronze statue was unveiled in Central Park. Balto died in 1933 in Cleveland, Ohio, where his stuffed body is on display at Cleveland’s Natural History Museum.
Private donations collected under the auspices of the Municipal Arts Society paid most of the cost of this sculpture. Brooklyn-born sculptor Frederick George Richard Roth (1872-1944) received the commission for the statue, which was awarded the 1925 Speyer Prize by the National Academy of Design. A low-relief plaque shows the dogsled team braving the blizzard and bears an inscription dedicating the statue to all of the sled dogs that helped save lives of so many people. From the moment of its unveiling, the sculpture has been a favorite of young park visitors, many of whom come from far and wide to sit astride the dog hero celebrated in several books as well as in Steven Spielberg’s animated film, Balto (1995).
- Location: The Dene, west of 5th Avenue and East 67th Street
- Sculptor: Frederick George Richard Roth
- Description: Canine figure on integral plinth on boulder with relief tablet mounted on front
- Materials: Figure--bronze; Tablet--slate; Natural boulder--Manhattan schist
- Dimensions: Figure W: 4'6" D: 2'6"; tablet: H: 2'6¼" W: 5'; Total H: 9'
- Cast: ca. 1925
- Dedicated: 1925
- Donor: Balto Monument Committee
- Inscription: 1) Integral plinth, front: BALTO /
2) Integral plinth, proper right: [signed] F.G.R. ROTH /
3) Integral plinth, rear: Founder's mark (obscured) /
4) Plaque: DEDICATED TO THE INDOMITABLE SPIRIT OF / THE SLED DOGS / THAT RELAYED ANTI TOXIN SIX HUNDRED MILES OVER ROUGH ICE / ACROSS TREACHEROUS WATERS THROUGH ARCTIC BLIZZARDS FROM / NENNANA TO THE RELIEF OF STRICKEN NOME IN THE / WINTER OF 1925 /---/ ENDURANCE FIDELITY INTELLIGENCE /
5) Bas-relief on plaque: [signed] F.G.R. ROTH /
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